Student Notebook

I like to use slides in lecture because I think it can help students follow the argument – to see its logical structure.  So long as there isn’t too much text on the screen, it can be helpful to be able to see how I distinguish the different points I’m making, and to note when I’m moving from one point to another, and to see that one point is a “level 1” point, while another is a “level 2” point.  I also want to provide these slides to the students, because I don’t want them to feel that they have to furiously scribble down everything I say.  If they have my slides, then they can have more time to listen and think and ask questions in class, because they only have to take notes to fill in the details, to make comments or indicate questions, and so on.  

Once students have my slides, however, there is a question about how they integrate their own notes with my slides.  If my slides were available far enough in advance, they could print them up and take notes by hand on the page, but I’m always working on the slides up to the last minute – I don’t just recycle last year’s slides.  Many students now use computers, so they can copy the slides from the web page when they come into class, paste into a word processor, and then add their own notes between my bullets.  This approach integrates student notes and prof notes, as well as providing full-text search.  

But there is a danger that students will not be able reliably to distinguish what I said and what they say I said.  Also, with a single-word-processing file approach, it is not straightforward to add cross-references or build an index.  Full-text searching is great if you’re looking for a rare word.  But if you’re looking for a commonly used term, it can be frustrating.  In a course on political theory, for example, the terms “freedom” or “justice” will come up very often, but only some of this content will be directly about freedom or justice.  Better to have labelled slides that are directly about justice with the tag “justice.”  Similarly, full-text searching is great if you are looking for something in particular, but for browsing, it is very useful to have cross-references.  If the content has a web-like logical structure, which is invariably the case, then a web of links between different parts of the content permits students to browse at will, taking multiple paths through the material.  

The logical thing to do, then, is to give students their own, personal, editable hypertext notebook that automatically syncs with course content made available online, but which is available to students when they are not connected to the internet, because the notebook resides locally, on each student’s hardddrive. How is this possible?! TiddlyWiki + Wikispaces, about which more later.

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